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5 Innovative Technologies in Use at the World Cup

New technologies are changing how the games are played and watched.

Technology is moving fast — it's influencing culture and history in new ways with each passing year. The World Cup is no exception, as new technologies make their way into a sport that traces back thousands of years. The following are five innovative technologies that are changing how the game is played and watched:

1. GoalControl

The objective of soccer is one of the most straightforward of all team sports, but FIFA isn’t taking any chances in this year’s World Cup. Each of the 12 stadiums are equipped with GoalControl, a ball tracking system designed to give the referees an extra piece of information they can use when making calls.

When the ball passes either goal line, all referees receive a vibration and visual signal through their wristwatches indicating that a goal was scored. The referees still get the last word on play calling, but their decisions are now supported (or refuted) by precise imaging technology, adding a new dimension to the game.

For each goal line, an array of seven cameras provides coverage from all angles in each stadium. The system is precise, collecting 500 “image sequences” per camera, per second. The data is routed to a computer that translates the image data into four-dimensional coordinates, the fourth dimension being time, and when the ball passes the goal line, an encrypted signal is sent to the referees’ watches.

Exciting scores or misses can be quickly replayed and also rendered in 3-D to give viewers a new vantage point on what just happened.

2. Vanishing Spray

First approved in 2013, viewers of this year’s World Cup may have noticed referees spraying the field with what appears to be shaving cream. The vanishing spray is used to temporarily mark the location where a free kick is to occur and the closest point that defenders are allowed to stand to the kicker. After being used in the 2013 World Cup, FIFA reported positive feedback on the spray, noting that it was a helpful tool that reduced the number of yellow cards issued during games.

The spray is available for purchase online, and some fans have found innovative uses for the product.

How to enjoy a game using vanishing spray. — Football Memes (@Footy_Memez) June 21, 2014

3. Mind-Controlled Robots

From the first kick of the tournament, this year’s World Cup showed every sign of being tech-enabled. A paraplegic teenager wearing a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton launched the event by kicking a ball while wearing the device.

The device was created by the Walk Again Project, a nonprofit collaboration involving organizations including the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, the Technical University of Munich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

The device monitors minute electric signals in the brain that signal voluntary movement, even in those who have physically lost the ability to move. The headpiece monitors brain activity and transmits signals to the exoskeleton.

Through the nonprofit's research, several quadriplegics have been implanted with brain chips to achieve the same effect. One test subject was eventually able to raise and lower an object by controlling a mechanical arm that was physically disconnected from his body.

4. Educational Apps

Americans generally don’t care about soccer, even to the point of pride, but if this year’s World Cup is a trend indicator, that is changing. The match between Belgium and the U.S. on Tuesday set World Cup viewership records for ESPN, according to Nielsen numbers.

Because Americans don’t typically follow the sport, two programmers from Minneapolis built a mobile app, called Tap In, with the soccer newbie in mind. Billed as “simple, mobile-friendly guides to all 64 World Cup matches,” the app delivers match times according to the user’s time zone and analysis of each match that includes predictions and key players, to provide context for those who might otherwise find themselves lost in a new game.

5. Entertainment Apps

Perhaps hoping to capitalize on controversy, a team of app developers has already created an Android game making light of Luis Suarez’s tendency to bite other players. Called Suarez Soccer Bite, the game centers around biting other players while avoiding the temptation to bite the referees. An iOS version will be made available pending approval by Apple.

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.